This salad is at its most simple a great big excuse for me to make Green Goddess Dressing. I'm a California girl through and through and Green Goddess is too.
But this dressing is a bit older than me -- it has been around, by some accounts, since the 1920s when a chef at the Palace Hotel made his West Coast version of the classic French sauce verte. If you grew up out west, you probably remember that Green Goddess was all the rage right about the time Madonna came out with Material Girl. But, with time, this dressing went the way of shoulder pads and scrunchies and became all but obsolete.
So, I'm bringing it back in a big way but with a few tweaks, namely adding in avocado in place of mayonnaise and packing it with as many herbs as possible. And, if you're going to make Green Goddess, it is absolutely essential that you serve it with a lettuce worth of it -- one that has a good structure, a nice sweetness, yet is delicate, like Little Gems lettuce.
These lettuces sound more like something out of a Tiffany's catalogue than something out of the garden but trust me that they're more than worthy of their name. I had never had them before I moved to the Bay Area and was immediately in love because they're like an heirloom romaine lettuce with a bit of sweetness and a nice firm crispness that makes for a pretty amazing salad. In Northern California, you can find them on many a menu but, when I started spending more time in So Cal, I noticed Little Gems weren't quite as abundant. All that to say, yes, they might be a bit of a search, but it's one that's certainly worth it.
I turn to Little Gems in the end of the winter when I want the freshness and crispness of spring vegetables but there are none to be found. They're like the Cliff Notes version of spring produce and are available (here in California, at least) year round. Once you've got the Green Goddess and the lettuce in order, feel free to top it with whatever suits your fancy. In the depths of winter, I love adding in some watermelon radishes and kumquats whereas this time of year I add a mix of Japanese cucumbers, roasted beets, and breakfast radishes.
No matter what you top it with, embrace your inner 80s child and spread the good word of Green Goddess and Little Gems.
Combine everything except the beets, radishes, cucumbers, and lettuce in a mini food processor and mix until smooth and well combined. Stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to mellow the flavors and loosen the dressing; set aside at least 10 minutes for flavors to develop.
Can be made up to 1 day ahead; store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Slice the beets, radishes, and cucumbers into paper thin slices using a very sharp knife or a mandolin. To serve, divide lettuce among serving plates, top with beets, radishes, and cucumbers and top with a drizzle of the salad dressing.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp